The big houses were planted with hedges, haga, hawthorn, to form enclosures, quick cover for hunting was made with rhododendron bushes, where wild animals, unused to the rapid invasion of this canopy of shadowy branches, stifling blossoms, murky undergrowth, were at a disadvantage and were shot in their hundreds.
Hedges, like lawns, are of no use to the woman unless they are overgrown, wild, and generative. She likes to feel overwhelmed, to feel powerless in the presence of unruly vegetation. Hawthorn is a native of this island, known as a thorn, gentle tree, or lone tree. To cut its branches is a death sentence, to violate it is to incite supernatural wrath.
Feudalism thrives on pink and red blossoms: hawthorn and rhododendron.
If the woman were to make a tea from the hawthorn plant, it would be remarkably similar to mad honey, the psychoactive substance made from bees’ pollination of rhododendron plants. In both cases, the euphoria comes from the body’s palliative response to toxic shock, a softening of the edges of reality as death creeps into major organs, causing irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, nausea, death.
The rhododendron plant was one of the earliest recorded biological weapons.
Ankle-deep in sorrel, grazing her sandalled feet and leaving yellow weals on her legs. A desiccated spider in the bathroom, a half-dead wasp dragging its abdomen across the flagstones, a colony of flies in the skylight.
A plate of tomatoes cut to resemble flowers on a table covered in meat, the taste of green bell peppers, a skirt she’ll never wear again.
Her father, on his one doomed visit, bringing cellophane-wrapped peonies in a cottage surrounded by wildflowers. He wanted her mother to leave the back way, in the dark, he wanted her sleeves caught with burdock, the burrs of the hedgerow sticking to her good camel coat.
The woman plans her nine days of mourning, she will burn branches, wear robes dyed pink with blossoms, mark her hands, keen, wail, Weile Weile Weila, shave her head, use the quartz that still glitters just below the forest surface, cover her head in its dust.
Out into the country with the milk pouring sour, bread geodic with a crystalline thread of mould, nothing to eat, nothing but her camel coat and her wedding ring on a necklace, deep under the yellowing polyester of her institutional blouse. He wanted her hair matted with blackthorn, her face with fine scratches. He wanted her bleeding, injured: he wanted her dead.
The woman holds on to her shame like an ornament: calcified, fragile, and rigid. She wraps it in velvet and precious silks, she protects this dead, osseous guilt, worships it as a relic, and hurts anyone who tries to prize it from her. She is deep in the pathology of martyrs. She is a skull-bearing saint.
She will become haga, haxan, hag, hawthorn, hedge-rider, honey-eater, martyr, priestess, bringer of death.
About Laura Ellen Joyce: “My current research and creative work is focussed on the intersection of landscape and violence. My novel Blood Forest is an experimental work about a deadly rhododendron invasion, reproductive rights, drugs, poisons, and the interrelated histories of colonization and horticulture. My previous books include The Museum of Atheism (Salt, 2012), The Luminol Reels (Calamari Archive, 2014), and a critical book, Luminol Theory (Punctum, 2017).” More here: https://lauraellenjoyce.com/about
Photograph is of a performance by Leif Holmstrand. More here: https://www.leifholmstrand.se/leif_holmstrand.html